By John Paolo Bencito
DESPITE warnings from the Department of Education and local officials, a village leader allegedly led a mob of townsmen and some soldiers in destroying a school run by a private organization and named after an Italian priest who was killed for championing the rights of lumad (indigenous people).
The Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Barangay White Culaman in Kitaotao, Bukidnon was destroyed by a mob led by barangay chairman Felipe Cabugnason and aided by some soldiers, Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate and Neri Colmenares said on Saturday.
The school, run by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc., was named after Italian priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions who was killed on church grounds in Arakan, North Cotabato in 2011.
Tentorio is believed to have been killed by members of the paramilitary group Magahat Bagani, which is also believed to be behind the violence committed against leaders of indigenous people in Mindanao, locally called lumad.
“We condemn this atrocity against the lumad school in Kitaotao. We pledge all help that we can extend to find justice for the teachers and students affected by this savagery,” Zarate said, urging victims to file criminal, administrative and civil charges against Cabugnason and the soldiers who aided him.
“The Department of Education and the local government in Bukidnon have already warned Cabugnason and the military that they have no authority to shut down this lumad school, much less demolish it. Yet, they still persisted in doing their clearly illegal acts,” Zarate said added.
“The state of impunity is now running amuck in Mindanao and we have yet to see concrete actions from the government,” he added.
Colmenares, for his part, expressed concern over the vilification of the lumad school, saying that the accusation of being affiliated with rebel groups has resulted to human rights violations including extrajudicial killings.
“It is a pity that the village chief is taking its cue from the military, and espousing the lie that these lumad schools are the makings of rebel groups, and its teachers and students are rebel supporters or rebels themselves.
“Instead of supporting the efforts of Churches and non-government organizations to provide the much-needed education that his tribe members need, he is the first to vilify and attack the school that provided free education for lumad children,” Colmenares said.
“The demolition of this school is a crime against the lumad children who benefit from this school, to the memory of Fr. Pops Tentorio who had built lumad schools all over Mindanao before he was brutally murdered, and to all lumad people who are struggling for their right to their lands and to self-determination,” Colmenares pointed out.
Meanwhile, Kitaotao Vice Mayor Rodito Rafisura said the town council will start on Monday a probe on the demolition of the school.
MISFI executive director Percinita Sanchez told The Standard that Cabugnason together with soldiers in civilian clothes “broke the school’s fence and threatened some 28 students and teachers in the boarding school to immediately pack their things and were ordered to leave the school on Friday.’’
Sanchez said that Cabugnason sent an eviction letter to Fr. Fausto Tenorio Memorial School and were addressed to MISFI early October, “ordering them to shut down the Kitaotao-based school or he would forcibly enter the IP school and close the school immediately.”
Cabugnason’s eviction letter cited grounds for closure, such as the lack of a permit to operate and the school’s alleged connections with rebel group New Peoples’ Army.
Sanchez denied claims by Cabugnason that the school haven’t secured yet a permit to operate from the Department of Education, adding that they are “currently working with the Department of Education-Division of City Schools in Malaybalay,” which covers the town of Kitaotao to “disprove false claims.”
In fact, Sanchez said the DepEd and Kitaotao Mayor Lorenzo Gawilan Jr. already warned Cabugnason that he has no power to shut down the school.
Sanchez said that Cabugnason’s hostility came as a surprise to them “since he and many of the townspeople had been very supportive of the school since it was set up, as he was always present in many of its activities, such as moving-up rites, and others.”
The attack against lumad schools are among the issues raised by Manilakbayan 2015, a caravan and mobilization from Mindanao that will arrive in Manila on Oct. 26, 2015. Some 87 lumad schools suffered from various forms of military attack.
Many schools in Davao, Agusan, Bukidnon and Surigao have been repeatedly forced to suspend their operations amid allegations that they were being supported by communist rebels.
In Surigao del Sur alone, a director of another lumad school, the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development together with two other tribal leaders were killed inside the school compound last September, trigerring fear among tribesfolk and forcing them to evacuate.
Sanchez said that several teachers and students from the school are now traveling by land to Davao City, to join other refugees affected by the attacks.